Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference where she announced new plans for the stay-at-home order and other measures to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday ordered large businesses and food service establishments to enforce the wearing of face coverings and renewed a state of civil emergency for the fourth time amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The state of emergency was due to expire on July 10, but is now in effect for another 30 days. Mills issued an executive order on face coverings that requires large retail businesses, restaurants, outdoor bars, tasting rooms and lodging establishments in Maine’s more populous cities and coastal counties to enforce the state’s face-covering mandate. It is effective Wednesday.

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Municipalities can enforce the order in public spaces, and licensing or permitting agencies can issue penalties for noncompliance, including revoking licenses or permits. Mills also publicized a reporting form for alleged violations.

The face covering order comes after Mills first announced on July 1 that she would issue it. Mills said she envisioned the enforcement becoming part of the certification checklist that each business must agree to before reopening. While Mills previously issued two executive orders that required everyone to wear face coverings in public, many businesses have been allowing customers without face coverings to shop or eat indoors.  

However, Mills said there is scientific evidence showing that wearing a face covering can significantly reduce the transmission of COVID-19 to others. In his briefing Wednesday with reporters, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said there’s very early evidence that face coverings may protect the person wearing them as well.

“It is important that we wear face coverings as people begin to interact more and more,” Mills said.

Maine is now in its third stage of reopening, with most parts of the economy reopen for business, Heather Johnson, commissioner for the Department of Economic and Community Development, said in her biweekly webinar with businesses Wednesday. Johnson said cloth or disposable paper face coverings and face shields are all acceptable under the order.

An April executive order required people to wear face coverings in public places where physical distancing is difficult. That was followed by a May Executive Order requiring stores to post readily visible signs notifying customers of the face covering requirement. The May order also allowed stores to deny entry or service to a person not wearing a covering except to those who are exempt because of medical or other conditions.

Bangor started the “Mask Up for ME” awareness campaign in June aimed to encourage people to wear face coverings when in public to limit the spread of COVID-19. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The order today mandates that businesses require face coverings if they are retail stores with more than 50,000 square feet of shopping space, restaurants, outdoor bars or tasting rooms and lodging establishments. It applies to businesses in the coastal counties of Hancock, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Cumberland and York, as well as in the cities of Bangor, Brewer, Lewiston, Auburn and Augusta.

Mills said the order focuses on those areas because of the congregation of people in Maine’s larger cities and the influx of tourists along Maine’s coast. Under the order, municipalities may enforce the use of face coverings on streets and sidewalks, in parks and other public spaces where individuals are not able to maintain at least six feet of physical distance.

The order also can be enforced by any governmental department or official that regulates licenses, permits or otherwise authorizes the operation or occupancy of the types of businesses covered by the order. A violation could be considered as a violation of the license, permit or authorization and could carry penalties, including revocation.